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ATD Blog

L&D’s Playbook in the Digital Age: Q&A With Brandon Carson

Tuesday, July 6, 2021
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Organizations are facing an era of rapid acceleration. As new technology and digital strategies are integrated, workers at all levels will be required to build capability much faster than before, navigating more complex systems and processes. Yet, learning and development (L&D) has lagged in this area, as too many L&D functions still focus on transactional interactions across a broad and complex portfolio while starved for resources.

In L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age, Brandon Carson makes the case that it’s time to reorient L&D, take a more proactive role in enabling the workforce, and create a new framework for developing skills and capabilities.

Why did you write this book?

I began this book before the pandemic as a follow-up to my previous book about the impact of the digital age on business and the workplace. As the pandemic unfolded, I could see the immediate impact it was having, forcing an acceleration in how work needed to get done. I could see the role that L&D and technology (together and independently) would have in supporting necessary changes. My original premise was and still is that L&D needs to reset, rethink, and rebuild to support the largest-scale job transformation in human history that we are undergoing. What brought us here won’t get us to where we need to go.

In our post-pandemic world with hybrid work environments, it is necessary for L&D to take a fresh look at its value proposition and identify where it has the biggest effect. We need to determine how to better support the workforce and the business through these unprecedented times. In doing so, I recommend that organizations create a new playbook to help them more deeply align to the needs of the business and the workforce.

What is an L&D playbook?

Like a playbook for a sports team, an L&D playbook is a strategic game plan for your organization. It is flexible and adaptable with clear guidelines for how to execute.

A playbook helps build alignment across your team as well as with stakeholders (internal and external). You may already have a playbook or variant of one. What I map out in the book is a tactical process for creating a playbook that helps learning leaders move L&D into a less reactive mode and into a proactive, completely business-aligned function that drives capability. Playbooks differ based on the needs of your organization, but many have similarities, including a mission and vision aligned to the company’s, a current assessment of your L&D operating model, the state of the learning culture across the company, and how L&D impacts the workforce and the business. Additionally, your playbook should outline your short-term and long-term strategy (with “long-term” defined based on the dynamics of your business).

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Why now?

I believe L&D is at an inflection point as a practice. Businesses are significantly increasing their investment in technologies to drive more efficiency and automation, which is introducing the need for new workforce capabilities. Without a strategic and tactical plan to upskill, reskill, and cross-skill the workforce, businesses will struggle with the strategies they need executed. Additionally, we are living longer and will be working longer. Many of us will have up to six decades of work in our lives. When you consider that the shelf-life of skills is two to three years, you can see the challenge we face. We must dedicate the time, energy, and resources to develop our talent at every level.

What are the short-term and long-term benefits of creating a new playbook? How will it drive value?

It’s important for L&D to become a much more nimble and flexible function in the enterprise. Too often we are structured as a cost-center taking orders from “business stakeholders” with little exposure to true impact areas. When a function operates as a cost burden, it can be challenging to break out of a reactive operating model. I argue that we need to rethink strategic planning overall. In fact, we need not to be aligned with the business; we need our strategy to be a core component of the business strategy itself. Learning should be the business strategy at a high level. This requires us to radically alter our traditional operating model and construct what I refer to as a new playbook. Our businesses are integrating new work models and systems, which means we have new capabilities we need to transfer to the workforce. The playbooks we create must be flexible enough to provide an executable plan but also enable us to pivot when necessary.

Who should be reading this book and applying the info and tips in your book?

I wrote the book for any HR or business professional because talent development is a key pillar for any organization at any size. Every worker, from now on, will be working with technology to get their jobs done. It’s imperative for business leaders, HR professionals, and learning experts to understand that every worker at every level in the organization will need new skills to successfully navigate the digital age.

I also want to stress that the digital age is not just about technology. There are a host of challenges and opportunities as almost every aspect of work rapidly evolves. In the book, I have asked experts from several fields related to the future of work to discuss strategies for how we must keep the humanity in work, how we must be more inclusive in how we shape our work teams, and how we need to build multidisciplinary approaches to support the evolving new paradigms of what work is becoming.

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About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience in talent and organization development, Brandon Carson is an accomplished leader in maximizing employee engagement and performance. He is a seasoned expert in corporate learning and talent management and has extensive experience in creating global workforce development strategies, leading teams, and implementing learning technology at scale. His recent books include Learning in the Age of Immediacy and L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age. He speaks about topics related to training, learning technology, leadership, and talent management. Currently, he is the vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart US. In previous roles, he was the head of learning for airport operations with Delta Air Lines, and he led training design for Home Depot. Before taking on corporate roles, he was a learning consultant for Apple, Microsoft, and other Silicon Valley companies. Brandon holds a MEd in educational technology, a BA in business, and certification in advanced analysis.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit td.org/books.

L&Ds Playbook-RGB Cover
L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age
ISBN: 9781952157585 | 192 Pages | Paperback
td.org/books/l-ds-playbook-for-the-digital-age

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Brandon Carson, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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